GSD hits back at ‘outright lies and half-truths' as row over MPs travel costs flares
The row over MPs travel costs flared up yesterday after the GSD accused the Gibraltar Government of “outright lies and half-truths" after the Opposition raised concerns about the price of flights.
The issue was first flagged by GSD MP Roy Clinton after he was booked to fly Club class to a conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Belfast.
Mr Clinton wrote to the government and said that against the backdrop of Covid-19 and the shortfall in government revenue, MPs should set an example and fly economy.
But the government hit back and said the trip had been organised by the local branch of the CPA and paid through the Gibraltar Parliament’s budget.
It added too that while Mr Clinton was flying Club class, one minister who was attended was flying economy on a low cost carrier at a third of the cost.
The government said Mr Clinton should have raised his concerns with the CPA and made arrangements to fly on cheaper tickets.
On Wednesday, the GSD said the government’s response amounted to an admission that it had failed to address the issue of CPA travel costs under the parliamentary budget, for which the Chief Minister is responsible.
The GSD said Mr Clinton had not chosen to fly Club class but had been handed the ticket by parliamentary staff.
“When a Government runs out of excuses it resorts to outright lies,” Mr Clinton said.
“It is simply not true that I chose to travel in Club class to the CPA conference, nor did I book the tickets myself.”
“I have never flown Club class at the public expense and have no desire of doing so now.”
“I did express my concerns to the Clerk of Parliament, who gave me the tickets, about the class of travel and the costs which were more than double the cost of economy.”
“As a consequence I also wrote to the Chief Minister asking him to change the class of travel given they were booked via a travel agent.”
“Today we have been advised that these tickets were booked as non-refundable Business class tickets and thus both the Hon. Elliott Phillips MP and I have insisted on personally paying the price difference between Economy and Club directly to the Government’s travel agent.”
“I trust the Government minister similarly booked will do the same.”
“Going forward, short-haul flights should be booked on an economy basis for all parliamentarians and accompanying staff.”
“Equally that practice should be consistently adopted by all ministers with immediate effect.”
“I understand that this is an embarrassment to the Chief Minister as Minster for Finance but he must accept responsibility for failing to ensure all economic savings have been identified in this time of crisis in our public finances.”
The government had insisted earlier this week that it already used economy class tickets for ministerial short-haul work trips unless these were booked at short notice or there was a need for ministers and officials to work on the flight.
But the GSD remained unconvinced, insisting “this is where the big expenses are” and that significant savings could be made on travel.
It cited travel costs for some ministers in 2018 and 2019 – prior to the Covid travel bans – and said it doubted the veracity of the government’s assertion that travel costs were being kept down.
By way of example, Mr Clinton said Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia had incurred travel expenses of £20,641 in 2019 and £37,859 in 2018, and that the vast majority of his flights to London cost in excess of £1,000, “often significantly more”.
It said other ministers including Neil Costa, then the Minister for Health, had generated similar travel costs, and that the trend was also evident in prior years.
“At best the practice is mixed and inconsistent between different ministers,” the GSD said.
“Everyone will understand the point that if a flight to London is costing the public purse more than £1,000 it is unlikely to be an economy class ticket.”
“In any event the issue is that the state of the public finances now dictates that economies be found.”